House debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021


Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading

11:37 am

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021. When the Our north, our future: white paper on developing northern Australia was released back in 2015, it made big promises to turbocharge growth and to create jobs right across the region. The white paper's biggest announcement—its crowning jewel, if you like—was supposed to be the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, which is now widely referred to as the 'no actual infrastructure fund'. The NAIF was intended to offer another avenue for projects which are a bit out of the norm and may not have qualified for traditional bank loans but offer great opportunities for innovation and job creation across northern Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Northern Australia may be geographically remote, but it is home to a number of world-class, world-leading businesses and industries. There are organisations from Mackay to Darwin to Port Hedland that are achieving things that no-one else has even dreamed of doing in mining, in agriculture and in sustainability. With the right support, we can see more emerge, and this will help Australia in its post-COVID, post-recession recovery. Unfortunately, what we've seen over the past five years, since it was established, is that the NAIF has been a huge disappointment for the communities in northern Australia and has comprehensively failed to deliver what was promised back in 2015.

The government are always happy to talk about how much they have approved or how much they're going to spend eventually from the NAIF, but they go really silent when you ask them how much has actually gone out the door and into communities. There's probably a good reason they don't like to talk about that. As of 30 October 2020, NAIF had only realised $218.4 million of its $5 billion budget. That means that only 5c in every dollar promised has been released over the five-year period supposed to be the NAIF's entire life span. When the coalition government established the NAIF, it believed it could invest $5 billion in five years. Northern Australia is overflowing with potential projects, so it seemed like it should be an easy job. So how is it the government managed to make such a dog's breakfast of it, with only five per cent of funding out the door by the time its deadline rolled around? How? If it were a private business, serious questions would have to be asked about the NAIF's ability to hit its KPIs. So far, we have seen fewer than 10 projects actually begin or complete construction.

So the government gave the NAIF an extension, another five years to roll out the other 95 per cent of its funding. It's clear there is a big job for this 'announce lots, deliver nothing' government. The NAIF has also been subject to four reviews in as many years, with the Senate Select Committee on the effectiveness of the Australian Government's Northern Australia agenda also making it the subject of its interim report. It is no wonder that people in northern Australia see it as a white elephant, with review after review, announcement after announcement and recommendations made and gone unheard and northern Australia still seeing very little development. All of this inaction has meant people are still waiting to get any real results.

Labor have been calling for major changes to the NAIF for the past three years. Finally, at the end of last year, we saw the Morrison government admit its failures and commit to a much-needed overhaul of the program. Labor welcome the Morrison government finally making changes to the NAIF—changes we hope, when implemented, will be a step in the right direction. People in northern Australia don't want another announcement from the Prime Minister and Minister Pitt; they actually want delivery. They want money out the door from this program.

This bill proposes to extend the time period in which NAIF can make decisions to grant financial assistance for another five years beyond its current expiry of 30 June 2021 to 30 June 2026. The NAIF's statutory review showed stakeholder support for the extension of the NAIF based on the view that it fills an ongoing market gap in accessing finance in northern Australia. Labor supports the proposed extension. Northern Australia is bursting with opportunity, with many project proponents just needing that hand up to get started. Hopefully, the government will make better use of the next five years than they did the previous five.

The bill also proposes to expand the activities eligible for financial assistance beyond the construction of northern Australia economic infrastructure to the development of northern Australia economic infrastructure. This change is consistent with the recommendations of the Senate inquiry that the NAIF should support more smaller projects. It means the NAIF could potentially support the purchase of equipment, leasing, training and the expansion of existing business operations. The Senate inquiry into the effectiveness of the Australian government's northern Australia agenda repeatedly heard from stakeholders across the north that the NAIF was not accessible to smaller projects and that it is, a lot of the time, smaller projects that have the largest impact on communities and jobs in the north. It's always exciting to hear about $100 million projects being approved in our regions, but often it is those smaller projects that can make a big difference in communities because they can be completed more quickly and they deliver ongoing jobs faster. It's hoped allowing more of these smaller projects to prosper through the scheme will help deliver the results desperately needed to get the NAIF back on the right path.

The bill also provides for the NAIF to lend directly to project proponents rather than going through state and territory governments, as it must now. Feedback from across the north has raised serious concerns about the length of time it currently takes to get money out of the NAIF by duplicating administrative processes at the state or territory level. We acknowledge the concerns raised by environment groups that the changes would remove the ability of state or territory governments to block projects that have environmental impacts, in particular gas projects. However, the Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia governments, as well as business groups across the north, have all indicated that they are comfortable with this change. In addition, the bill does not alter existing federal, state or territory environmental and other regulatory processes relevant to projects that are funded by the NAIF. Labor supports speeding up the release of funding for the NAIF. However, we would like to see the NAIF support more renewable energy projects and projects which assist in achieving net zero by 2050 targets, as is Labor's own policy.

The bill also broadens the types of financial assistance which the NAIF will be able to provide to projects. Currently, the NAIF only provides loans. The bill proposes that, in addition to loans, the NAIF be permitted to offer letters of credit, purchase of bonds, guarantees and equity investments. This reflects the investment options of other government financing bodies such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Labor has been calling for this change for a while now, with the Senate inquiry and the statutory review recommending that other types of finance would be of assistance to potential projects in northern Australia—especially smaller projects and those proposed by First Nations communities, which historically have had an extremely difficult time receiving support by the NAIF.

As of 30 October 2020, only two First Nations projects have reached investment decision stage with the NAIF. These two decisions total $40 million, representing only one per cent of the NAIF's total funding. That's just not acceptable. Labor has been calling on the government, and the NAIF, to work on having greater engagement with First Nations communities on the development of northern Australia. We acknowledge that this bill goes some way towards addressing this by including experience in economic development for Indigenous communities in the list of fields of expertise sought for the NAIF board. Labor had hoped the bill may go further in addressing the challenges First Nations projects seeking NAIF support have faced in accessing NAIF financing. However, we hope that, altogether, these changes will mean that smaller projects and First Nations projects, which are so vital to development in northern Australia, will have more opportunities to successfully progress through the NAIF.

The last 18 months have been particularly challenging for northern Australia. It has seen drought, fire, floods, trade embargoes and COVID-19. It has battled a lot of this without real meaningful help from this government, who time and time again seem to believe that this country stops at Kirribilli when it comes to planning those big projects. Areas like Far North Queensland, relying on JobKeeper and JobSeeker, have been hit badly by the government's recent cuts and in four short days will bear the brunt of the JobKeeper program ending altogether. For many people in the north this means less money for essentials, less money spent in local shops, meaning the north's recession will bite deeper and longer than it should.

That is why it is more important than ever that we see the Prime Minister, Minister Pitt and the NAIF start truly supporting northern Australia. Now is the time to be supporting big and small projects alike to get off the ground, employing people from local communities and stimulating those local economies. It's easy to lose count of how many reviews and rehashes of programs the government has announced for northern Australia in the last few years. Time after time this government talks about the north's potential but what they don't seem to understand is that people in the north are looking for action to actually realise that potential. A strong northern Australia is good for the whole economy and the whole country. If we want the north to lead the country out of recession, it's going to take more than unfulfilled promises. Northern Australians are fighters and they deserve a federal government who will join them, support them and invest in what the north has to offer.

As a result of this bill, the government will now get a second chance with the NAIF and another five years to spend the funds that it promised the north. Labor wants the NAIF to work. We want to see northern Australia reach its full potential. Let's hope this bill won't end up as just another example of this government overpromising and underdelivering. Northern Australia needs long-term vision but it also needs projects and jobs now. If our economy is to recover from COVID-19, the last thing they want to see is a repeat of the last five years. Communities in the north can't spend another five years waiting on funding to trickle down from the NAIF. Money must start getting out the door faster so it can start turbo-charging northern Australia's recession recovery.

As I've already said, northern Australia is bursting with opportunity. It's now up to the minister and his colleagues to deliver what they promised. Northern Australia has already been waiting too long for the Morrison government to catch up. It's time for action. It's time for jobs. It's time to see that the $5 billion that was promised to northern Australia way back in 2015 actually gets out the door, gets out of Canberra and makes a real, substantial and sustained difference for the north of this country. With that, I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes the Government's failure to:

(a) deliver what it promised as part of its Northern Australia Agenda; and

(b) get money out the door of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility;

(2) further notes the bill includes amendments that the Opposition has been calling for, for a number of years; and

(3) calls on the Prime Minister and the Government to:

(a) learn from their failures with the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility over the past five years;

(b) deliver the funding they have promised for development in Northern Australia by speeding up the release of funds from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility; and

(c) realise the potential in Northern Australia and re-commit to delivering on their Northern Australia Agenda."

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Health and Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right of reply.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member.

11:50 am

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

After that partisan contribution, I am not sure why but I will extend the courtesy to the other side of letting them know that I am only going to be speaking for five minutes. I think the member for Blair is here to speak next. I am doing that courtesy to ensure that he's ready for that.

In many ways northern Australia can be looked upon as our nation's frontier land, the vast and beautiful Top End which makes up 40 per cent of our country's land mass and yet it is home to just five per cent of the population. In terms of representation in this House, of 151 members of parliament just eight can raise their voices in this place to celebrate the worth of the north and champion its causes. In the other place there are just five senators who are actually based in northern Australia. I am very proud to say three of those five are Nationals: Senator Canavan, Senator McDonald and Senator McMahon. That's a total of 14 MPs and senators out of a total of 229 representatives and senators in this place who can actually stick their hand up for close to a third of our nation's potential. Yes, we are few in number but we have loud voices. It was only when the Liberal-National coalition came to government in 2013 that serious work began on further investigating the potential of the north and to find ways to invest in that potential.

The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility was a recommendation of the white paper for developing northern Australia. It set out a plan to unlock the vast economic potential of the region, as we have barely scratched the surface in untapping the wealth in terms of mineral resources, in terms of food production, in terms of water storage and in terms of tourism development. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility provides financing by means of low-interest loans. Since its commencement in July 2016 the NAIF, despite all that's been said in this place, has actually made a big impact—$2.8 billion in investment commitments, forecast to support 8,000 jobs and generate around $6.6 billion in economic impact for northern Australia.

While much has been achieved, despite the naysayers, there is more to do. I acknowledge that. I have advocated for a long, long time, probably since the inception of the NAIF, for the changes that are being announced today to be made. I and many project proponents have felt frustrated by lending requirements from the NAIF being dragged through state government and territory government processes and the time it took to get through those processes and the restriction of only funding construction. The changes contained in this amendment essentially mean that the NAIF will fund more job-creating projects in the north because the NAIF will be able to provide more and not just in finance. On finance there is a cap of $50 million per project and no more than a 50 per cent share. So the NAIF, or essentially taxpayers, won't have a controlling interest. That is fantastic news. I can think of a number of big job-creating projects that could benefit from this: the Urannah Dam project, the Bowen Marine Centre of Excellence project, the Whitsunday Skyway tourism experience project and the Collinsville coal-fired power station project.

This amendment will expand eligibility. The NAIF was previously restricted to funding construction works only. This expansion will allow the NAIF to finance projects involving equipment purchases for leasing, training and the expansion of existing business operations. The definition of 'public benefit' is also going to be expanded to take into account factors, such as jobs—jobs being the most important thing in the north—regional income, opportunity for local suppliers, opportunity for Indigenous businesses and opportunity for communities.

The NAIF will have an increased risk appetite, which is very important given the situation we are now in as we recover from the effects of the pandemic. We should be providing the NAIF with more flexibility to support, yes, riskier projects but bolder projects, with the potential to deliver significant economic benefit in the north. The amendment includes removing the prohibition against the Commonwealth assuming the majority of risk in any project.

Another change I am pleased to see is faster lending. The NAIF will have the option to now lend directly to project proponents rather than having those loans made through states that have added, sadly, to the length of time it's taken for money to get out the door. That'll simplify the lending process and reduce the red tape burden for the project proponents. I'm also pleased to see changes to allow the NAIF to collaborate with other lending institutions to support smaller projects between $1 million and $10 million. I am already in discussions on a significant farming operation in the Burdekin about accessing some of this lower, smaller finance to enable a unique glasshouse system of horticulture to be set up. We are going to explore that further.

I've heard the criticisms from the previous speaker, the member for Ballarat, as someone from New South Wales who probably doesn't know too much about the north—actually she's from Victoria; even worse than what I thought, coming from Victoria! There's not too much actually about the north that she knows, but I just wonder, given the criticisms that have been put in this place, whether it's understood clearly by the Labor Party that the NAIF can't just go around spraying money at projects that they like. It has to come via applications. Just like banks, such as the NAB, Westpac, ANZ or CBA. They can't just turn up to someone's business and say, 'Here's $5 million; we want to invest in this particular project.' That's not how banking works. Someone comes up with an idea. Someone does the work. Someone does the business case. Someone then comes to the bank, in this case the NAIF, and applies for the low-interest loan. These changes will assist in getting that money out the door, because it will make it easier for applications to come forward.

There are quite a number of applications that have gone out. The NAIF has made close to $3 billion investments into projects. A number of those are either in or adjacent to my electorate. In Townsville, we've got the Townsville Airport with $50 million towards an $80 million project, creating 257 jobs. I acknowledge the member for Herbert here, who is a long supporter of that and also a strong supporter of the JCU Technology Innovation Complex, with $96 million to support a project creating 270 jobs. The mining industry is still going strong. There is a pipeline of projects that will require a larger workforce. With this JCU project, we could attract more young students into the region to secure the necessary qualifications to fill the gaps in the resources sector and other sectors that are vitally needed. The JCU have also applied for $46 million for university student accommodation, creating 569 jobs.

The Mater Private Hospital in Townsville has secured $19 million to create a car park as part of the hospital redevelopment, helping locals ensure that they've got greater access to the hospital, with more car parking provision. That creates 14 jobs. We've got the great North Queensland Cowboys—may they long live forever and win a lot more than they have been. The Cowboys are going to roll out a high performance centre. There's a sports medical and allied health service with $20 million investment from the NAIF. It has a total project value of $35 million, creating 213 construction jobs and 58 ongoing operational jobs. This is real stuff.

Just west of Mackay, in Claremont, we've got Signature Beef, in the member for Capricornia's electorate. She's a strong supporter of this project, as am I. They received $24 million in finance to create a beef processing facility out west of Mackay. That's going to create 270 jobs. This is real money out the door, with real jobs being created.

All in all, I'm just talking about North Queensland projects. NAIF investments are creating over 3½ thousand jobs from over $1.3 billion investment, and that is just in Queensland. I know there's far more potential from a number of proponents who have ideas on the table to grow the north. I welcome steps being taken to amend the NAIF so that we can see more players getting the go ahead and more jobs created in the north. Thank you.

11:59 am

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021, which extends the capacity of the NAIF to provide assistance across the north of Australia. I like to read books when I'm catching a plane, often a book on history, or a biography; I find them interesting. My colleagues sometimes have a go at me for the size of the books I carry, which look like you could do weights with them! But one day on the way back from parliament to Queensland, on a Friday morning, I got hold of the report Our north, our future: white paper on developing northern Australia, released in 2015, and I was pretty excited when I read it. I thought it was a pretty good report which looked at the challenges we face. With a population of just over a million north of the Tropic of Capricorn but 40 per cent of our landmass, it's not just an economic development issue; it's a national security issue and I think a social justice issue for our Indigenous brothers and sisters, who make up such a large proportion of the north of Australia.

But I've got to say, this government, when they brought in the NAIF, really messed it up. They've released only $218.4 million of the $5 billion they've allocated, and of course this facility runs out in the middle of this year. So, because of the NAIF not working the way it should have worked, the government's now having to extend it for five years, change it to smaller projects, change the facility provision, bypass states and territories and even do some amendments that look like they take into consideration the experience of our Indigenous brothers and sisters in the north, so they made some important amendments. But we shouldn't have had to get to this point, because, as Labor's been saying—and I know some opposite have said it as well—we should be supporting the economic development of northern Australia, the protection of its environment, which is fragile, and the empowerment of northern Australia's First Nations population. There are incredible opportunities in northern Australia, from the Northern Territory to Western Australia, the Kimberley and up in the Torres Strait, and in the major provincial cities of Queensland and the outback of Queensland. These opportunities include agriculture, tourism, biofuels, renewable energy, mining, tropical medicine and the like.

So, this legislation shouldn't have been necessary, but it is, because the government has completely messed it all up, after the opportunities and the excitement that you could have experienced when reading the white paper. This government has failed northern Australia. We've seen some good governments in northern Australia, at times—the Queensland Labor government, the Western Australian government, who placed an enormous amount of emphasis on infrastructure, airports, ports, the establishment of supply chains, a competitive tax environment, a skilled workforce and a whole range of issues that they've addressed and are addressing. I commend the McGowan government and the Palaszczuk government for the work they've done.

On this side we have supported the NAIF and had hoped that the government would do better, and unfortunately they have not. The member for Dawson can talk about all the projects that have been committed to, identified and thought about. But the release of the money is crucial. The member talked about the banking industry. Well, I'm telling you, you can't actually buy that house-and-land package unless the bank releases the money so that you can actually settle that and buy it. This government has not released the money—just $218.4 million out of $5 billion. It has not been a good investment. That is not a good track record. You can say you're 'going towards'. You can say you're 'having discussions', or negotiations, or that you've signed a memorandum of understanding. But you've actually not got the money out the door.

So, if this particular legislation will get the money out the door, Labor will support it. But it shouldn't have had to come to this. We do support another five-year extension. But there are those opposite who know, in their heart of hearts, that the government has not fulfilled the potential of the NAIF. It has been the 'no actual infrastructure facility'. They can't even be specific about the number of jobs or the amount of money they've allocated.

When I spoke in response to the minister's ministerial statement in October last year I pointed out that the minister said one thing on 30 September last year in terms of the money they'd committed and then another thing in terms of the jobs. By six or seven days later—I think it was 6 October, about a week later—they had lost 700 jobs and $400 million. That was in his own ministerial press releases. They couldn't even get that right within seven or eight days. They couldn't even work that out. How can you lose 700 jobs and about $400 million in about seven days? This was in the minister's own press releases.

The government can't get the story straight. If this legislation will help them then we'll support it, but they haven't done a good job in northern Australia and they haven't done a good job on the NAIF. The fact that they have this legislation before the chamber today indicates quite clearly that they've messed up and haven't handled it well. The promises that were there with the white paper haven't been fulfilled and the government is playing catch up. I hope this works. We've been arguing for some of these things, like a more flexible approach in terms of credit facilities and also smaller projects as well. I hope the government gets this right for the sake of my home state of Queensland. It's certainly a fact that having this legislation before the chamber is an indictment on this government and a demonstration of its failure.

12:06 pm

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021.

The $5 billion Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility has certainly been a game changer for northern Australia. It was great to see this coming out of our Pivot north report, as a recommendation for a funding stream—a report by the committee I chaired at the time. However, I do concede that there have been some initial teething problems. That's why we have to bring these amendments on. I notice that the member for Blair has left the chamber now—he wouldn't understand this because Blair is well below us, in the south-east corner, so he's not really talking about northern Australia. He would need to concede something when he talks about cooperation: the Northern Territory government, a Labor government, has been very proactive in grabbing opportunities that the NAIF has presented and the Western Australian Labor government has also been quite proactive in grabbing opportunities.

But the Queensland state Labor government have been absolutely abysmal. They have failed in every way. They have dragged their feet and done everything they can to make sure that this program hasn't been successful. Unfortunately, as a direct result of that, we've lost out on so many different opportunities in relation to this. What we're doing now reflects on the lack of interest and cooperation by the Queensland government. In the difficulties experienced by the Queensland government they've done everything they can to step in the way of really good projects and then used the fact that they haven't got up as an excuse to throw some political barbs. It's very, very disappointing.

In the time the NAIF has been operating, the Morrison government has listened to stakeholders in the north and we're making the necessary changes to ensure that the NAIF is more agile and adaptive to help drive the economic recovery. As of 12 February 2021, the NAIF had made $2.8 billion in investment commitments. These commitments are forecast to support 8,000 jobs and to generate around $6.6 billion in economic impact for northern Australia. Fifteen projects, worth a total of $1 billion, have loan contracts in place, meaning that projects are underway and jobs are being created in the north. There are around $2.9 billion worth of projects under due diligence and a further $3.3 billion in total projects that are active inquiries. This demonstrates the level of demand for NAIF finance under the current policy settings. Reforms are opening up equity investment and expanding the scope of projects, allowing the NAIF to enter on-lending partnerships. This has expanded the pace of investment commitments and outflow of funds, and will continue to increase.

The benefits for the NAIF are already evident in my own electorate of Leichhardt. NAIF investment will fund a new floating terminal for bauxite miners, Metro Mining, on the Skardon River in north-western Cape York. A $47.5 million NAIF loan will allow the new infrastructure for the company to load larger vessels as part of its planned Bauxite Hills Mine stage 2 expansion project. Prior to COVID there was a total workforce in the mine of around 200 people. Around 30 per cent of that workforce were local Indigenous people, but, like many other businesses and companies across Australia, Metro Mining was hit hard by the global pandemic. However, I understand mining operations will recommence in April this year, which is next month, with an initial workforce of 100 people, 27 per cent of whom are going to be Indigenous. This investment will also have significant boosts for businesses in Cape York and the Far North, and more than 95 per cent of Metro's mining supplies is coming from Far North Queensland. I recently wrote to all the mayors in Cairns, Cape York and the Torres Strait, as well as the region's advocacy bodies, to inform them of the proposed reforms and urge them to take advantage of the changes.

I want to touch on one major reform contained in the bill that I believe will supercharge the north, particularly as we emerge from the COVID pandemic. The ability of the NAIF to lend directly to project proponents in certain circumstances will simplify the lending process and reduce the administrative burden. While the states and the Territory governments remain important stakeholders for the NAIF, the ability to lend directly and bypass the states empowers the NAIF to bring projects to contractual close faster, so proponents can get on with creating jobs and developing the north. This is one of the critical points, and I have to say that this is particularly focused at the lack of cooperation from Queensland. This change also permits NAIF to establish on-lending partnerships and local financiers to improve access to NAIF finances on small projects—which is particularly important to further drive Indigenous led projects, which tend to be smaller in scale—and to improve access to NAIF finance for smaller First Nations businesses. A lot of these businesses are much smaller than is provided for in the current guidelines, so it gives them an opportunity to capture the First Nations businesses.

Another reform contained in the bill that I believe will certainly be extremely beneficial is the expansion of eligibility for projects. This reform will make NAIF finance available for additional elements of infrastructure construction, such as equipment leasing, training and expansion of existing businesses. I know that, in the past, this has been a really major inhibitor for some businesses in being able to access a loan, and they will certainly welcome this. This reform will ensure that NAIF can take a holistic approach to supporting economic growth.

NAIF will play a critical role in supporting the recovery of northern Australia from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, more often than not, those on the opposite side have been more interested in playing politics, and I'm referring here specifically to the Queensland state government attacking the good work that the NAIF is doing. Never at any stage do they offer solutions, which is really no surprise. I urge those opposite, particularly the shadow minister for northern Australia, to actually work with the government to help deliver real outcomes for the north, instead of only being interested in scoring a few points, and a few likes and retweets on Twitter.

12:13 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Right at the outset, I want to back up the member for Leichhardt's acknowledgement of the sterling work of the Northern Territory government in getting maximum benefit out of the NAIF that has been possible. These have been difficult times to get assistance from that facility, but we all hope that much better days are ahead.

It is a pleasure to speak on this proposed amendment bill, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021, and it does seem that the government, in relation to the NAIF, has finally started to listen. The proposed bill incorporates changes that we've been calling on the government to make for some years, so of course I support these changes, and I look forward to good results for the north out of the NAIF in the future.

Also important, I think it's a good time just to cast our minds back. It is quite impossible for any informed observer of this process of the NAIF to escape the conclusion that the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has so far been a failure. Let's not forget that the NAIF has a budget of $5 billion, and as of 30 October last year how much of that $5 billion had actually been released into the community for the private sector and other stakeholders to work with? Only $218 million since the NAIF launched back in 2016. That's less than five per cent of the funds spent in five years—five per cent in five years of that big number: $5 billion. It sounded impressive when it was announced five years ago, but only $218 million at this stage has gone out onto the ground. When you think about the vast untapped potential of the north and the many projects that just need a bit of a hand to flourish and succeed, a tiny spend of $218 million is indeed an appalling figure. When you think about the great fanfare of the announcement, it's a pretty unimpressive figure. And it is why the NAIF earned the nickname 'no actual infrastructure fund'.

These challenges and problems are not new. I've spoken about them many times. My judgement of the NAIF over the years has been harsh but rightly so, because the north of Australia is so important, and the NAIF has spent so little of the $5 billion over those five years. There is untapped potential, and I think it is important to say that we demand that this facility actually work to help people in northern Australia. Indeed, over the years it was difficult not to come to the conclusion that it was simply a marketing exercise and that the government wanted to look like they cared about the north. But the way it was designed meant that it was very difficult to get the funds out there onto the ground, so I welcome these changes.

There are a number of changes. Firstly, the purpose of financial assistance has been broadened. Rather than focusing exclusively on the construction of infrastructure, which excludes many different projects, the NAIF will be able to fund projects which promote the development of economic infrastructure in northern Australia. This may include buying equipment, leasing, training staff and expanding existing business operations. A further broadening is in relation to NAIF eligible projects. The act in its current form requires that a project must create economic growth and stimulate population growth in northern Australia, both very worthwhile aims. However, the bill before us will change that requirement to an either/or proposition, rather than requiring both objectives to be met by each project. That's going to help get more funds out onto the ground.

Secondly, the NAIF will now be able to provide funds directly to the proponents of eligible projects. Under the act as it currently stands, funding can only flow to projects through state or territory governments. I don't for a minute believe that the underperformance of the NAIF so far has been a consequence of the interference of state and territory governments. In fact, environmental groups have expressed concerns that the removal of state and territory governments will make it more likely that projects with more serious environmental impacts are funded. However, I will note that the governments in question, that of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, have all indicated that they're comfortable with this change. There are many projects in the works for the Northern Territory. I'll list them quickly. They are in different stages of the process. We hope that they can all be funded. Those that have received funding so far are the Humpty Doo Barramundi farm expansion, the airport expansion and an Indigenous tourism project.

One thing I want to draw the House's attention to is that, with the departure of NAIF board member Barry Calder, who is from the Territory, a new spot will open up on the NAIF board. That spot must be filled by a Territorian. The replacement of Barry Calder by anyone other than a Territorian will completely devalue and debase the NAIF. The NAIF already requires rejuvenation and improvement, to say the least. Without NT representation, improving the NAIF will be impossible. Representation is important. One thing this proposed bill fails to do is consider how the NAIF could be meaningfully improved by expanding the representativeness of its board. The NAIF board requires not only Northern Territory representation but First Nations representation. They need a First Nations voice helping to shape that agenda. I also believe that the Indian Ocean territories must be included in our definition for northern Australia. After all, the member for Lingiari represents people in the Indian Ocean territories. The bill is far from perfect but it is an opportunity to improve the NAIF and make it actually deliver for northern Australia. I commend the government for listening to us and proposing to incorporate our changes, and I commend the bill to the House.

12:21 pm

Photo of Phillip ThompsonPhillip Thompson (Herbert, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very glad to support the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021 because it will mean great things for North Queensland and particularly the people of Townsville, who I have the privilege of representing in this place. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has already had a major impact in Herbert, and these changes will only make it easier for it to have an even greater impact. So far, it's made funding commitments of $2.8 billion to projects that are forecast to generate at least $6.6 billion in economic impact. This is why we're asking the sector what they want and providing the means by which they can do it, in the form of these government backed loans.

We in Townsville are lucky to be reaping the benefits of a large number of NAIF projects that have been backed by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. Not only is this a show of confidence in our region; it's an opportunity for us to capitalise on the employment and economic flow-on effects. In Townsville, we have the new car park at the Mater Hospital, which is worth $20 million. There's also $50 million that has been approved for the Townsville Airport redevelopment, although those plans are currently on hold as we see what happens in the aviation sector post COVID.

We've also supported two projects at James Cook University—$96 million for the technology innovation complex and $46 million for student accommodation—both of which are now under construction. In 2018—it's disappointing that the member for Blair has left—I was with the then minister and we announced this $46 million for student accommodation. Fast-forward a year and a half and I'm the member and I go back and do the same announcement. It has taken so long for this project to get up. The failure and the let-down was with the Treasurer of the Queensland Labor state government. The Treasurer at the time just put it at the bottom of the pile and didn't want to sign off on the project. The amendments to the bill will allow us to streamline this process and remove the blockage that is the Queensland Labor state government, which I'm looking forward to because we'll be able to get more projects underway in Townsville.

These great projects for our community are backed by public investment. There's one project that I want to talk about in more detail, and that's the $35 million investment in the Cowboys' brand-new HQ and Community, Training and High Performance Centre. It supports 271 jobs. The staff started to move in last month and it's an absolutely incredible project. The Cowboys' new home is positioned right next to the brand-new Queensland Country Bank Stadium and is able to take full advantage of its position. Of that $35 million federal government investment, $25 million was a loan from the NAIF. This has pretty much covered the entire cost and it has allowed this amazing project to go ahead. It has an indoor kicking area. I had a tour a couple of weeks ago and it was an honour to walk through it. It is a great place. I saw the local players get ready and train. I'm expecting big things from the Cowboys because of this facility. It has recovery pools inside. It has chilled and heated pools for their rest and recovery. It has a lecture theatre and study areas and a public coffee shop where anybody can come for a coffee and have a chance to spot a player and get a photo. There are a few new jobs there in the cafe, which adds to the construction jobs; there were 213 during the construction and 58 have been supported through the operational phase and as a result of the expansion. That's a project that has already been delivered, and there are other ones that are getting started or are halfway through. So we're seeing that the NAIF is working. It's providing finance for massive projects to get over the line and creating much needed infrastructure as well as jobs at the same time.

So why are we here today? Why are we wanting to make changes to the way NAIF works? The main thing is that we want to get those small businesses and organisations, as well as the big ones, over the line. There are so many great projects out there that haven't qualified because they're not large enough on the scale that the NAIF currently demands, but they would still create dozens if not hundreds of jobs either in the construction phase or ongoing, which is good for our economy. So we are allowing the NAIF to be a proactive financier. That means not just offering a loan that has to be paid back but actually making equity investments. This will open up more opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses.

This decision was made in response to the feedback that we needed to see faster approval times, to see more focus on smaller projects and remove the restriction that NAIF funding was for physical infrastructure only. That means that, with this bill, the NAIF will be opened up to finance not only capital infrastructure but also other elements of successful projects, such as equipment purchase or leasing, training and the expansion of business operations. There will be a cap on the $5 billion amount that can be used for equity investments; that will be $500 million. We'll see the NAIF in partnerships with local financiers. NAIF finance could be as simple as heading down to the local bank.

I'm really excited to see what businesses and entrepreneurs in our region will achieve with these new financing options. I think this will be a game changer, helping those small operators take on bigger projects which stand to benefit us all and, I know, will benefit the region, especially in Townsville. I commend this bill to the House.

12:27 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

It's my pleasure to speak, albeit briefly, in this debate on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021. We on this side of the chamber will be supporting the legislation, although I want to raise two issues of concern to me. I won't go through the details of the bill; others have done that adequately. I note that there is recognition of members of the NAIF board having economic experience in Indigenous communities. It is my strong view that it should be mandated that there be a First Nations representative on the NAIF board. I hope that the government saw the merit of this and amended the legislation to ensure that that happened. Secondly, I note that they're seeking changes for the local government area of Ngaanyatjarraku, in Western Australia, to be considered part of northern Australia for the purpose of the NAIF.

I've submitted, and there have been discussions with the minister's office through the shadow minister, as I understand it, to have the Indian Ocean territories considered part of northern Australia. You might ask, 'Aren't they?' They are, but they're not considered part of northern Australia for the purposes of this bill. That, in my view, is a joke. Christmas Island is located at latitude 10.490291 degrees south, longitude 105.63275 degrees east. Check your maps! The Cocos Islands are located at 12.200603 degrees south and 96.85894 degrees east. These are both close to the latitude of Darwin, so how they could not be considered part of northern Australia is totally beyond me. By air, Christmas Island is a 3½-hour flight from Perth and the Cocos Islands are a 4½-hour flight from Perth. Christmas Island is 2,600 from Perth and the Cocos Islands are 3,000 kilometres from Perth. Christmas Island is roughly the same distance from Darwin. So why aren't these considered part of northern Australia?

We know that there is a national demand for investment on these two communities for a whole range of reasons. We know that infrastructure is an issue for both these communities. For those who don't know, the major industry on Christmas Island is phosphate mining, an industry that, in the wake of COVID-19, has experienced increase demand out of China, Europe and Africa. Christmas Island has limited handling facilities because it lacks a harbour and access to port facilities. It has a prolonged monsoonal swell season, which is current on Christmas Island, to the point where the ship bringing supplies in, which was due in November, didn't arrive until three weeks ago. Obviously better freight services development on Christmas Island is the type of project that could be available through NAIF. There are many other projects which are being proposed and thought about, such as the mountain bike project, opportunities for an eco resort on Christmas Island. There are so many other things that people would like to do, if they were able to access the sorts of resources that are available to other parts of Australia. There is a unique place here because insurance is a major problem, so getting lending from financial institutions is really difficult.

The Cocos Islands have similar infrastructure issues as Christmas Island. It's also subject to monsoonal weather events. This year the community had a major cyclone event which required emergency procedures on the major populated island, Home Island, to be activated when there was a danger of major flooding. The extreme wet season has also seen delays in freight reaching the island, as ships are unable to load barges to be towed to the island, resulting in food shortages and a lack of access to vital medical supplies. Alarmingly, in recent years, major sandbagging along the beaches of Cocos has become increasingly common as the community deals with climate change due to rising sea levels. Cocos, if you like, is the canary—in this case, the birdcage—on the island, sounding the warning for the need for action on climate change on Cocos. Again, this is the sort of development and infrastructure requirement that could be addressed through the NAIF process.

There are obviously proposals for other economic development opportunities, tourism infrastructure and other things. Already the local council, with the support of the community, is working with the potential developers to cater for a boutique eco-tourism resort. Islanders in the Indian Ocean territories want to enjoy the same access to services and food and medical security as mainlanders. They want to enjoy the same access to concessional loans and other measures which are being amended as part of this bill through the NAIF process yet they're being denied it by this government, who refuse to accept that Christmas and the Cocos Islands, the Indian Ocean Territories, part of Australia, part of northern Australia, their opportunity to be considered as part of northern Australia through this NAIF process. That is a shame and it should be changed. I invite the government to amend the legislation when it hits the Senate to include the Christmas and Cocos Islands, the Indian Ocean Territories as part of the NAIF consideration.

12:33 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021. For those who don't know, in shorthand, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility is called the NAIF. It was established under statute in 2016. It is a government agency with $5 billion to invest to provide the basis for economic and population growth in northern Australia. The NAIF was established with the intent to fill financing gaps in northern Australia by being more risk tolerant to uniquely northern Australian characteristics like remoteness, distance and climate. As of September last year, the NAIF has made approximately $2.7 billion worth of loans and has $2.3 billion left in funding.

What this bill does is not entirely what is being portrayed in this place. This bill will extend the life of the NAIF for a further five years, which is fine, but it will make substantial changes to the NAIF's operations. The explanatory memorandum states that these changes will strengthen the NAIF's governance and enhance the scope, speed and flexibility to provide financial assistance to support the development of northern Australian economic infrastructure. While the NAIF is an essential vehicle to support northern Australia, I do not agree that the changes will result in these outcomes. On the contrary, the changes will weaken independence and result in the potential funding of stranded assets with public money. The government claims that the reforms contained in this bill arise from the recent statutory review of the NAIF released in December last year. This review was not independent. It was conducted by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. This is basically the fox conducting a review of the safety of the hen house. These reviews must be conducted at arm's length from the government. The result is that this push is flawed from the very outset.

How can the public be assured that taxpayer money is being spent appropriately? This is really the funding of fossil fuel projects. Minister Pitt has made clear in his public comments that he would like to 'cut out state administration of the loans', which he said was 'partly to blame for delayed rollout of funding on projects'. But it is not as simple as cutting them out due to delays; they want to cut them out to push fossil fuel projects. In the past, state and territory veto has provided an important check on government expenditure. For example, when the NAIF proposed to make a $1 billion taxpayer funded loan to Adani Carmichael mine's rail line, the state government threatened to veto any loan and said they would veto any other proposals linked to Adani. So it is very clear here what the government want to do with these changes. The minister has said that this bill will enable the Commonwealth to bypass the state on certain projects, including interstate rail and gas projects.

In the government's Beetaloo Strategic Basin Plan, released in January, it also states:

The government has also announced changes to the NAIF … They can also support Beetaloo infrastructure developments.

It is very clear what is intended to be done here. The plan goes further and says the government would like to be:

    The Beetaloo Basin is a methane bomb. It is irresponsible in the extreme for the government to attempt to open it up. This is the same basin that the government's own department said would risk Australia failing to meet its Paris commitments. One conservative report projected that the basin will release some 117 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per annum, equivalent to one-fifth of Australia's annual emissions. We must reject any move to allow further funding to fossil fuel projects, especially in the Beetaloo Basin.

    The NAIF should focus, instead, on clean technology and on the types of projects that are being raised by members in this place. Northern Australia can be a renewable energy superpower. Think of the Sun Cable and the Asian Renewable Energy Hub. Projects of this magnitude are possible with the right support. I know many renewable project developers in Warringah, particularly at the Manly Solar Beach Hub, who would support such a move and would no doubt be interested in developing clean energy projects in northern Australia with such support.

    Item 11 in the amendment bill expands the functions of the NAIF to allow for the provision of financial assistance in the form of equity investments, meaning that the government could take a stake in the business and it's not a loan which is repayable. This increases the risk appetite of the NAIF as well as the Commonwealth's potential liability should the investment not work out. This is of particular concern when analysed in the context of the NAIF making investments in fossil fuel infrastructure that the market does not want to support.

    Item 11 also allows for the acquisition of derivatives. The government states derivatives must only be used for, amongst other factors, achieving indirect exposure to financial assets and achieving transactional efficiency. That sounds a lot like financial jargon, but this language really gives NAIF a licence to do anything. It, in essence, gives NAIF management free rein to play around in derivatives. Even worse, there is no requirement to make a financial return. We are talking here about free rein to go for loss-making projects. It could mean the government buying gas contracts to guarantee the supply price and volume at a later date. It could mean supporting pipelines and it could mean funding Shine Energy's Collinsville coal-fired power plant—and I note the energy minister sitting there at the dispatch box.

    However, problems arise if the gas or power plant are not needed due to factors, of course, like increasing penetration of renewable generation. The government would be left holding the problem and would still have to pay. And they may well do just that, as fossil-fuel-production extraction and its supporting infrastructure have huge carbon risk and are likely to be stranded assets in the very near future. The gas industry has had a shocking 2020, shedding huge amounts in shareholder value and writing down assets across the board. In particular, Santos, which is aiming to develop the Beetaloo, has written down over $8 billion worth in assets since 2014. So it's no surprise that industry has their hands out for government assistance. Of course they know that none of the projects they're proposing will get up without the government kick along.

    I do not believe the taxpayer should foot the bill for bad fossil fuel investments. The NAIF should not be a slush fund for the minister's projects. There's a serious lack of independence proposed; the changes are likely to impact the independence of the NAIF board from the government. Currently, the NAIF board makes all investment decisions. Section 14 of the NAIF Act reads:

    (1) The functions of the Board are:

    (a) to decide, within the scope of the Investment Mandate, the strategies and policies to be followed by the Facility; …

    Item 25 of this amendment bill provides that the secretary of the department will now be a member of the board. As the secretary reports to the minister for energy and the government, this change could open up the board to ministerial influence and could erode confidence in NAIF's investments. This is just a cynical attempt to consolidate influence on the already-weak governance of the NAIF.

    This bill makes serious changes to the NAIF's governance that will facilitate payments to fossil fuel projects: let's be very clear about what this does. The bill will also make changes that will reduce the independence of the NAIF board. I do not support these changes. We cannot waste taxpayer money on fossil fuels and we cannot allow an agency to be so co-opted. At a time when our national debt is at record levels we must not allow the government to waste public funds on bad fossil fuel projects. We need the NAIF to be independent and focused on the future of infrastructure and development in northern Australia, and we need a future focus on technologies which are clean energy technologies.

    12:42 pm

    Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

    In the middle of a climate crisis, the government brings the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021 to this parliament to take public money which could be going to schools and hospitals, instead using it for coal and gas.

    We're in a climate emergency. Around the world and here in Australia, people are in rebellion against the billionaires and the big corporations who are pulling the strings of governments and politicians. This week in my electorate of Melbourne citizens have come together for a week of action and civil disobedience, disrupting business as usual in defence of a safe climate. I want to say very clearly for the historical record that these people are heroes. They're refusing to be bystanders. They're refusing to accept the failure of our governments and our leaders, and they're not going to stop until they see real action to fix the climate crisis. So I extend my solidarity to Extinction Rebellion and, on behalf of the Australian Greens, the solidarity of us all. Together, everyone across Australia—from the people taking direct action now to the student strikers and the people at home, worried about the future—will continue the struggle and, together, we will win.

    There is no greater threat to northern Australia than the climate crisis. This should be a major factor in our consideration of this bill. That's because this bill seeks to extend the time frame and the remit of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility—the NAIF. It will allow it to operate for another five years, insert a departmental officer onto the NAIF Board, remove the requirement to gain the support of the host state or territory for future projects supported by the NAIF, and expand the funding mechanisms to include equity investments and acquisitions of derivatives.

    These amendments are promoted by the government as providing flexibility to deliver for the NT and northern Australia, but their aim is clear: the government wants to deliver for its mates. Minister Pitt has not even tried to hide his desire to use the facility as a slush fund for the gas industry. He has boasted about the amendments opening up more opportunities for Beetaloo infrastructure financing. It's a dirty energy fund that is yet another fossil fuel subsidy, on top of the fossil fuel subsidies that this government hands out to coal, gas and the dirty energy sector. Minister Pitt has boasted that the amendments will allow the Commonwealth to bypass the states on certain projects. I remind the parliament that the ability of state governments to veto investment decisions in fossil fuels was key to this slush fund not being used to prop up the economically irresponsible climate bond that is the Adani Carmichael mine.

    The Greens will be proposing amendments to the bill in the Senate to restrain the excesses enabled by the NAIF and ensure that all investments have an eye to a sustainable future for northern Australia. The Greens have long argued that the NAIF must consider the Australian government's commitment to the temperature goals in the Paris Agreement, where we have agreed to commit to limit global warming to well below two degrees and to continue to work towards limiting it to 1½ degrees. But our current domestic pledges from this government—these targets that the minister boasts about meeting and beating—come nowhere close to what science shows is needed to meet the temperature goals under the Paris Agreement. But, without question, to have any chance of avoiding us going over the climate cliff and avoiding the climate crisis becoming a runaway chain reaction that we can't control, we cannot finance new fossil fuel infrastructure. That should be a baseline.

    The discussion we should be having in this place is about how to phase out coal and gas, not how to take money that should be going to schools and hospitals and use it to build more coal and gas infrastructure. But that's what this government is trying to do. The Morrison government wants to use the NAIF to fund gas pipelines which will help gas companies who want to open up new gas fields. They want to use public funds to throw more fuel on the climate crisis. NAIF should be required to assess the environmental and climate impact of any project as part of assessing whether it is suitable for investment. It must also consider the environmental record of the people in charge of those projects.

    One of the things this bill wants to do is open up the NAIF for equity investments in fossil fuels. In other words, because the market and the private sector are saying, 'No-one in their right mind is going to build new coal and gas projects,' the government comes along and says, 'Let's use public money to help you out, and we might even take an ownership stake in your company to give you a help-out because we know that the private sector can't do it on its own.' This is because parts of the private sector are starting to understand the gravity of the climate crisis. They understand that the fuel from renewables is free, but dirty coal and gas not only are polluting but are more expensive, which is why many of these projects aren't going to get off the ground unless the government takes public money that could be going to schools and hospitals and gives it to big gas corporations—the big gas corporations that pay zero tax, that have over $50 billion in revenue between them but pay zero dollars tax. Instead of saying, 'Maybe the gas corporations should pay more tax,' the government says, 'How can we give you even more handouts and give you some public money, instead of asking you to pay your fair share of tax?' It wants to potentially have the public on the hook for owning some of this infrastructure that is going to make the climate crisis worse. This will mean the public ends up exposed to risk for these stranded assets and exposed to risk as, hopefully, a future government, once we've kicked this terrible government out, starts to take action on the climate crisis. This government is putting the public on the hook for future risk if we get serious about tackling the climate crisis. An acquisition of derivatives can leave the government with an open-ended, unquantifiable liability, if a project proponent becomes insolvent, so they're putting you on the hook not just for equities sake but for derivatives down the line as well.

    I note that there are some worthwhile projects, including those championed by First Nations organisations, that could benefit from some broader investment opportunities. But these types of speculative investments could be used, as the government wants to propose, to underwrite gas supply and prop up otherwise stranded assets. Given the NAIF's poor governance practices and processes for assessing risk on public lending, especially risks related to fossil fuels and climate change, this is an unacceptable risk. Tighter rules around eligibility for equity investment options introduced by the bill are essential to ensure the government isn't left carrying the can for unsustainable fossil fuel projects.

    For a bill with 'Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility' in the title, it's pretty astounding that the bill proposes to remove the mandatory requirement for infrastructure to stimulate population growth in northern Australia, which was the key motivation for the NAIF in the first place. Removing this requirement will make it easier for the minister to push NAIF into funding gas infrastructure and pipelines, including pipelines that are not located in northern Australia. The independence of the board is also compromised under this. The government has never set up the NAIF in the way, in the power sharing parliament of 2010, we set up the Clean Energy Finance Corporation—that is, as an independent body with statutory authority and rigour. But the government is so unhappy with the decisions that have been made so far that it wants to exert even more control by requiring the secretary of the department to be a member of the NAIF board, undermining any semblance of independence. It makes the NAIF directly susceptible to ministerial influence. This is a slush fund for the minister to reward the big gas corporations who pay no tax, who fast track the climate crisis and who, in many instances, donate to the Liberal Party and the Labor Party.

    The minister has already been spruiking fossil fuel projects and using the NAIF to further the government's discredited gas-fired recovery. When the NAIF was created, the government said:

    The expert, transparent and arms-length design of the Board lends credibility to financial markets, while ensuring the Commonwealth invests in projects which are viable, provide public benefit and unlock the potential of northern Australia.

    That was their spin at the time, but now they're not even pretending that that's the case. When it turned out that the investments don't favour loss-making fossil fuel endeavours, the government has tried to regain control of the decisions by rewriting the rules and exerting more control over how those decisions are made.

    In the Senate inquiry into the operation of the NAIF a few years ago, we heard evidence from First Nations and regional communities in northern Australia that the board needed to take a more innovative approach to investment, looking beyond traditional and often outdated and unsustainable projects, like mines and dams, but this goes the other way.

    As I mentioned earlier, the Greens strongly oppose allowing the NAIF to directly loan to entities, bypassing state and territory governments. The NAIF's clear function is to grant financial assistance to states and territories for the construction of Northern Australia economic infrastructure. But previous reviews of the NAIF identified the need of the NAIF to work more closely with state and territory governments, not to cut them out. Providing the option of bypassing the states and territories increases the federal government's power to drive new fossil fuel infrastructure at the public expense and takes away a key check and balance. Cutting out the states also raises serious and unresolved questions as to constitutional validity. This bill should, at a minimum, be sent to a committee so that this important issue can be properly considered.

    In conclusion, at a time when we are faced with a climate crisis, when we know we have a few short years to turn the ship around before we go over the climate cliff after which we can't wind back the effects of climate change, most people would be looking to this parliament for a plan to get out of coal and gas. They have probably come to accept, sadly, that the government's not interested in a plan to get out of coal and gas. But most people would be shocked to know that their own money, money that could be going to schools and hospitals is instead being rerouted to big gas corporations who pay no tax, to make the climate crisis worse, simply because those corporations also happen to be donors to the Liberal and Labor parties. That is what is going on here. This is a form of money laundering that will make the climate crisis worse. By saying to the big corporations, 'We're not only going to refuse to ask you to pay your fair share of tax, we're going to use public money for you to go and build these gas pipelines that are going to fast track the climate crisis, that risk making large parts of our country uninhabitable for our children during our children's lifetime.'

    We have heard, over repeated times in estimates, from our own Bureau of Meteorology who have said that as we are forecast, on current projections, to hit 3.4 degrees of global warming by the end of this century in Australia that probably means a degree higher. That means, under this government, and these smug ministers who sit there delivering for their gas corporation mates, during the lifetime of my daughter, of primary school children across this country, on current trends Australia is set to warm 4½ degrees. That is a hell scape. That means large parts of Australia, including northern Australia, will become uninhabitable during my daughter's lifetime, during the lifetime of Australia's primary school students. We should be doing everything in our power to stop that. We definitely should not be using public money to make the situation worse and that's why we oppose this bill. When it gets through here we will be moving substantial amendments in the Senate.

    12:57 pm

    Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    There has been a profound change in the NAIF. We hope the minister, who I hope has been responsible for those changes, will continue on that positive course. To date in North Queensland we have got $50 million for the airport in Townsville, which I use maybe four times a week. I have seen absolutely no change in anything at the Townsville airport. There was a nice little golden handshake for a foreign corporation that owns the airport with no benefit to the users of the airport.

    We have James Cook University technical innovation building, $100 million. Here we go. That's $150 million and no tangible benefit that we can perceive whatsoever. Bear with me for a moment, I am just going through them: $610 million for a foreign corporation where the Australian applicants were passed over. It was given to them and then they got a $610 million golden handshake. Charles Darwin University got $151 million really for a building. Universities are not operating as such because no-one can go to them on account of COVID. They are having a good holiday actually. The Darwin Port got $300 million. The Darwin Port was sold by Andrew Robb to the Chinese. Then he moved onto a million dollars a year the next year off the company that he sold the seaport to.

    Let's have a look at this: $300 million for a Chinese port; $151 million for a university that's not working; $610 million for a foreign corporation, which passed over an Australian corporation that should have got the contract in north Queensland; $46 million for extensions to JCU in Townsville; $20 million for a football team; $150 million for Northern Territory Airports, which I understand is foreign owned; $50 million for Townsville Airport, from which I have seen no benefit whatsoever; and $100 million for the James Cook University Technology Innovation Complex. Not bad! That's $1.5 billion that has gone to create virtually no jobs.

    I would hope Minister Pitt is listening in. You're doing a good job, my friend. But, prior to him getting the portfolio, the blokes there handed out $1. 5 billion to produce not a single job. And the vast bulk of it has gone to foreign corporations. Their handling of this has been absolutely disastrous. Peta Credlin said on television that, in the fifth year, we gave $1. 5 billion to this fund and not a single cent has been spent. So then they went out on a wild spending spree and blew $1.5 billion.

    That's in the past. I cannot not fault them since the new minister has taken over. I think that, at long last, they're starting to perform the way they should have performed. But, unfortunately, they have burnt up a couple of thousand million dollars there to achieve hardly a single damn job and hardly a single development of value to the Australian people. I mean, closed universities and foreign ports are hardly advantages for the Australian people. The only one I'm intimately familiar with is the Townsville Airport, which I use; as I said, I can see no difference from where it was prior to the spending of the $50 million.

    The NAIF has been very good on the issue of CopperString, and so have successive governments. I want to put on public record my praise for the Rudd government, for the Gillard government and for the 'Abbott-Credlin government'. Each of them gave, in today's money, over $400 million as a grant to this scheme. We compete on the world market with our silver, lead and zinc. We have the biggest zinc mine in the world. We built the biggest copper mine in the world. We have one of the six or seven biggest fertiliser plants in the world—all in the North West Minerals Province. We can't compete because we get our electricity at a price that makes us hopelessly uncompetitive. It's wonderful for this place to say, 'Oh, we will have a competitive market,' but it ain't any competitive market for the Pilbara that's earning you all of your money, it ain't any competitive market for the North West Minerals Province that's earning you all of your money and it ain't any competitive market for Olympic Dam. Coal, yes. But the other three? Nothing. So the Rudd government immediately announced that they were connecting those three areas to the national grid so we would get competitively priced power.

    Now, our problem in the North West Minerals Province—and I ask the minister to please listen to this—is that we have one tiny little power station, hopelessly non-competitive, that has no economies of scale; it's too small. Also, it is on gas, and the governments of Australia—state mostly, in this case, and federal—gave our gas away for 6c a unit. We currently buy it for $16.60 a unit. Our competitors are buying it for $6, and we've got to buy it for $16.60, and unfortunately for us, we need the gas as well as the gas electricity, so we get doubly hit. So, we get hit (a) because of the tiny little power station, (b) because it's on gas and (c) because there's a monopoly, and it would very stupid if they didn't take advantage of their monopoly situation in the marketplace.

    There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that Glencore and the fertiliser plant will benefit to the tune of $50 million a year if that power line goes in. There is also no doubt in my mind that if it doesn't go in there'll be a complete collapse in the economy of the North West Minerals Province. It's not pie in the sky, or garbage. Glencore announced 2½ years ago the closure of the copper refinery in Townsville and the copper smelter in Mount Isa, and of course the fertiliser plant has no sulphur coming from the copper operations, so it closed as well.

    That was announced. Massive concessions have been provided by the state government. I don't want to be cynical, but they were provided just before the state elections—which happened to be when the closures were going to occur. So, we were very, very lucky; we got let off the hook! But we're only off the hook for a little while, unless we can get that. And Minister, if your government is wanting to do something, Eva is a mine that will produce 160,000 tonnes of copper ore a year, which makes everything out there viable and will put about $1 billion a year into the Australian economy. In my opinion, it will not go ahead unless it has competitively priced power. Either you want it or you don't want it.

    I can sit here and give you 20 other Eva examples. But we need Eva to keep the copper refinery in Townsville going, to keep the copper smelter in Mount Isa going, to keep the copper mines in Cloncurry and Mount Isa going and to keep the fertiliser plant, which brings in $2,000 million a year by itself, going. That is what is needed to keep them going. We've had a very positive response. I thank the minister, because there's been a very positive response from NAIF on this. But there will have to be more money. Also, after all this wastage, Minister, you haven't got a lot of money left in the piggy bank, and that money has to be replenished. It is the one fund that can deliver.

    I have great faith in the new minister. I have had great faith in the new board, and the directions it's taking. I've read out to you the disasters that have occurred—in five years, not a dollar went out on anything, and then, among the projects that did get money, there wasn't a single job; half of them were for foreign corporations and the other half were for universities that were closed. The only one I'm really familiar with is Townsville Airport. Well, I can absolutely assure you that you could take the 10,000 people who use that airport regularly and they could tell you there has been no change in anything at that airport. So, what they did with the $50 million, who knows? And really, who cares at this stage?

    I conclude my remarks by saying that we have had a whole new world, with a new regime under a new minister, and a new board. Already they're doing exciting things, but a lot more money will have to be put into the till if this is to play a meaningful part in the development of Australia.

    Before I sit down, for the economy of Australia there is $3,000 million a year out there waiting in the Hells Gate proposal. It is superclean energy. It actually lowers the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Previous speakers have gone on and on about the world coming to an end over CO2, and to some degree I agree with them in a minor way. This project will deliver seven per cent of Australia's petrol, 1½ per cent of Australia's electricity and 10 per cent of Australia's ox production, pig production or chook production through the feedlots and it will lower the existing CO2 in the atmosphere. CO2 is not an emission and is not a by-product; it is a product. We want to produce as much CO2 as is humanly possible because it feeds algae. The CO2 comes from the algae and the CO2 goes into the algae, so we're putting CO2 into algae.

    There's $3 billion for the Australian economy in that one project. If the transmission line goes through, you can add another $2 million to the Australian economy. If you build a rail line and a multi-user facility in the Galilee, there will be $20 billion coming in. If you give money to silicon development, there will be another $5 billion coming in from the super-rich silica deposits in Cape York—not at Cape Flattery or at Hope Vale but much further north. If you build a canal to enable us to get our fertiliser product out, we will give you the biggest fertiliser plant in the world, bringing in $6 billion a year and $2 billion in prawn production.

    Minister, this is what we can give you, but we need that NAIF, so please take your gun down, put it at the head of the Treasurer and get that money.

    Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Order! The member for Kennedy should withdraw that last comment please.

    Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    What last—

    Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    It would assist the House if you would withdraw that last sentence.

    Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Oh, sorry.

    Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Or rephrase—

    Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Can I say 'knuckle him'?

    Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    No, but you can rephrase.

    Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    That's a pity. I'll have to leave it to your imagination.

    Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    It would assist the House if you would withdraw it. I'd appreciate that.

    Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Yes, by implication, I withdrew it.

    Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Thank you, Member for Kennedy.

    1:12 pm

    Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

    The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility is a key element of the government's plan to unlock the enormous economic potential of northern Australia. I table a correction to the explanatory memorandum. The NAIF was established to provide concessional finance to infrastructure projects for the benefit of northern Australia. It encourages and complements private sector investment in the region, helping build confidence in northern Australia as an attractive place to live, work, invest and do business. The NAIF has already made investment decisions worth $2.8 billion, supporting job creation and economic development throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This track record of investment puts the NAIF in a great position to continue supporting northern Australia's economic development.

    The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021 extends the active investment period of the NAIF. It also delivers reforms that will enhance its effectiveness and impact and that will assist with the economic recovery. The bill contains measures to accelerate investment decision-making and lending. These measures will make it easier and faster for eligible projects to access NAIF funds and get on with creating jobs and developing the north. In future, the NAIF will be able to lend directly to proponents in certain circumstances. The states and territories have been and will continue to be critical partners for the NAIF; however, the option of direct lending will enable the NAIF to reduce the administrative burden on those jurisdictions. The NAIF will be able to invest in on-lending partnerships. These will deliver NAIF finance to smaller projects with the assistance of a partner experienced in working with smaller proponents to access financial support. Finally, the bill extends the scope and flexibility of NAIF investment to ensure projects get the kind of tailored, innovative financial assistance they need to succeed. The correction to the bill's explanatory memorandum clarifies that the NAIF can provide this financial assistance in many forms, including equity investments to corporations.

    This bill represents the first step in implementing the government's reforms to the NAIF. As soon as possible, a new investment mandate for the NAIF will be tabled. Together the bill and the investment mandate provide the operating framework for the NAIF, under which it can begin to deliver on these reforms.

    In summing up, this bill transforms the NAIF into a more proactive investor for the benefit of northern Australia and the nation. I thank members for their contributions to the debate on the bill, and I commend the bill to the House.

    Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Ballarat has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

    Question agreed to.

    The question now is that this bill be now read a second time.

    A division having been called and the bells having been rung—

    As there are fewer than five members on the side for the noes in this division, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

    Question agreed to, Mr Bandt, Dr Haines, Ms Steggall and Mr Wilkie voting no.

    Bill read a second time.

    Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.